“Townie” discourse creates barriers

Students need to reach out to the broader Kingston community

The Queen’s campus as depicted above.
The Queen’s campus as depicted above.
Credit: 
Graphic by Arwin Chan

Georgina Dunn, ArtSci ’16

The lack of involvement on the part of Queen’s students in the Kingston community is a constant source of grief for both demographics within the city.

When 95 per cent of the population at Queen’s comes from outside of Kingston and international students make up seven per cent, it’s easy to pin the brunt of the issue on that. How can we feel fully involved in a city that, for many, is foreign?

A lack of civic involvement can sometimes be accompanied by insensitivity or disdain for non-student Kingstonians. Terms like “townies” need to be phased out, as they perpetuate class barriers that students should be aiming to dismantle.

The general lack of civic interest among some students causes a rift with regular residents. Students expect citizen-like treatment, but the number of those that partake in elections or local events is minute. It seems as though we just don’t care.

The rift between students and residents is devastating and isolating. The insensitivity of students towards Kingston natives can reach epic proportions, as a class barrier forms when students use the word “townie”.

“Townie” is a class-based slur because it’s used more often than not when speaking ill of a permanent resident of Kingston. As a student body, Queen’s is perceived to be predominately white and affluent.

While many students don’t fit these criteria, the combination of this negative stereotype and the reputation of the school as a whole lend itself to form a barrier between students and locals. This barrier prevents students from fully integrating into the Kingston community.

This blockade further widens when applied to the homeless population of Kingston, one of the largest in Canada.

In a study conducted by the City of Kingston in 2013, there were 8.59 homeless people per 10,000 residents, contrasted with the national average of 8.57. What’s even worse is that 41 per cent of those included in the study were youths.

There are organizations on campus devoted to raising awareness or serving food at shelters, such as Soul Food and 5 Days for the Homeless, but these aren’t widely participated in. There seems to be a disconnect between students and our city’s homeless population.

A class hierarchy is established when students demean regular residents of Kingston through certain choices of words. For eight months out of the year, complaints about how awful the terrible sidewalks are or the lack of places to go in Kingston are loudly voiced, yet a large number of students refuse to step foot outside of the self-imposed bubble.

Students are residents of Kingston. We hold the privilege to vote in elections, and the privilege to live in Kingston for four years or more, yet we actively choose to ignore that privilege and instead equate being a Kingston resident to being somehow below us.

Even by using the word “townie” under the pretense of a joke, it’s preventing you from establishing a full connection. By using the word, you’ve differentiated yourself from them, and put yourself higher on a class hierarchy without even realizing it.

The only way to permanently eradicate the boundaries imposed by the use of "townie" is to introduce more efforts for students to engage with the community of Kingston as a whole. Clubs like Soul Food, and Queen’s Students for Literacy (QSL) which provide literacy outreach in the Kingston community, should be promoted more so that students know how they can get involved.

Opportunities to volunteer are always available and would help lessen the communication back between students and residents of Kingston.

During the 2013 Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) electoral district hearing, the AMS successfully defended our right to effective representation – but whether traditionally low student voting rates will change has yet to be determined.

If not, it’ll show that student involvement in the Kingston community isn’t a priority.

There’s an enormous amount of stigma surrounding students as citizens of Kingston, a lot of which has to do with our attitude. If we don’t participate, how can we ask to be respected?

So abolish the word “townie”, because you, too, are a “townie”. Students make up 20 per cent of the Kingston population, spanning over 120,000 residents.

Get involved with your community. Volunteer, take a fitness class that’s not offered at the ARC or get a job off campus.

We forget that outside of university, there are people just going about their daily lives. Engaging with them for even a second is worth it.

Georgina Dunn is a third-year film and art history medial.

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